Thursday, April 30, 2015
In my 14 years of being a born again Christian, I am finally coming to terms with certain “evangelicalisms” that have been pounded into me sermon after sermon, youth group event after youth group event, and spiritual growth conference after spiritual growth conference.
In the hope of freeing others from the grasp of these often passionately but wrongly appropriated adages, I have listed a few here, with my conclusions.
Again, this isn’t to “bash the church” but to free people from unnecessary bondage to an often extroverted, clichéd paradigm of what it means to be a Christian, imposed by other Christians. It is a paradigm that often puts man’s ideas at the center, even Christian man’s, and not God’s. By breaking away from these stereotypes, I believe we free the true Body of Christ to flourish in its God-given diversity of personalities and talents.
Here they are:
“I challenge you!”
When we hear this, we need to be reminded that it is a human who is challenging us, not God. Yes, I know that God speaks to us through other people. But “I challenge you” has become such a bleeding heart tactic of leaders in evangelicalism that I believe it cannot be trusted.
What are the motives behind the person’s challenge? Are they mimicking something they read in a church growth article? Is the challenge in line with Scripture? How can one youth pastor claim to know how to challenge 750 kids in the exact same way?
If the challenge is to “Get out of your comfort zone” (which it so often is), how can that challenge be customized for every individual student listening in a one-hour rally-for-Christ? It can’t, because it’s almost always framed within an emotional paradigm of charisma and choking-back-tears passion. Many youth, not to mention adults, don’t even know where to begin with that appeal once they leave the auditorium.
These types of challenges ring loudly yet with very little, if any, accompanying discipling or equipping of individuals in Christ’s diverse Body.
My recommendation is to go home, take out the Bible, sit with God and listen to what He is telling us, which will often over-rule (and yes, perhaps at times even confirm) an emotional speaker’s challenge. But at least we are taking God’s Word for it under right motivation, and not under manipulation or emotional coercion.
“Get out of Your Comfort Zone!”
I refer to this in the above paragraphs. So much could be said on this one. Suffice it to say, again, that when a speaker admonishes people that they are too comfortable and need to become “uncomfortable for God,” watch out! What they are really saying is, “You need to do Christianity my way,” and that usually implies an extroverted, highly social model.
Again, someone who loves public speaking and taking groups on mission trips is going to promote this way of life to others. When “Get out of your comfort zone” always means “public speaking and hanging out in large groups and talking to strangers,” then where is the getting out of one’s comfort zone for those who are already comfortable with public speaking, hanging out in large groups and talking to strangers?”
Sadly, Scripture is often cherry-picked to guilt people into this one, with the incessant push to make every Christian an uncomfortable extrovert.
I have yet to have it explained to me what, exactly, this means and why it is the sweetheart of contemporary corporate church. It’s a recent bandwagon, but how is it any different than what Scripture already calls for?
A pastor’s attempt to illustrate this term occurred once while I was in a contemporary evangelical church service. The entire congregation was asked to reach over and pull out the label sewn into the back of the shirt worn by the person sitting next to us. All of my personal-space-invasion red-light alarms were going off, but I obliged, “got out of my comfort zone” and touched the shirt of the person next to me. “Made in Thailand,” I believe the tag said.
So...what now? We all waited in expectancy. Nothing. We were simply meant to ponder, with the pastor lamenting, “I don’t know what the answer is.” But praise God we all now knew where our neighbor’s shirt was made!
Incorporating the word “missional” into a teaching usually amounts to a lot of hand wringing, angst and questioning of our faith and humanity, but offers up very little in the way of Scriptural answers to the questions being posed (see 2 Timothy 3:7). In my experience, therefore, to be missional means to desire to be on a perpetual mission of never arriving at answers, and made to feel bad about it.
The same can be said for this statement as for “Get out of your comfort zone.”
When I hear this, I hear, “Be like me.” I also hear, “Lay it all out. No hold-outs. Take off your mask.”
True authenticity cannot be forced in the name of “being real with one another.” The times I’ve capitulated to this, and I know others say the same thing, I’ve later resented it and felt taken advantage of. The Holy Spirit wasn’t leading me, the person of “authentic” dominance was.
What the push for authenticity seems to lose sight of is the fact that being authentic starts with investing time in a relationship, and results in discipleship, which keeps God’s Word at the center. Cutting to the chase too quickly can end a relationship before it even starts. The Bible is clear that we are to be patient with one another, so why this aggressive strong-arming to immediately and always be “authentic?”
I believe it is better to encourage people to be who they are in Christ, and focus on how to become authentically other-centered, not self-centered. And that begins patiently, with the God-led building of relationships, His way and in His timing.
“Let Go and Let God.”
The problem with this one is that it becomes a pat answer to people in real pain. This is the antithesis to the problem I list with authenticity. While authenticity comes on too strong, “Let go and let God” comes on too weak.
Pat evangelisms (such as “God never gives us more than we can handle”) are common in Christendom. And unless we know the person we are using them with very well, and in a light manner, we ought to stay away from them. I believe these pat responses also stunt our growth when they take on a life of their own and risk becoming our theology.
Calling God “Daddy.” Ouch!
“Do Big Things for God”
Again, this usually means “Do the things I think you should be doing in order to be a real Christian.”
It is so easy to be manipulated by this one. But be careful! The “big” thing the leader is imploring us to do may be just the thing that takes us away from the “small” thing God already has us doing or would like to see us do.
Faith is not “one size fits all.” Faith and service is not only what the well-meaning but overly enthusiastic pastor or leader describes it as.
We need to be humble before God, not man, in discerning God’s will in our decisions. A truly humble leader will direct us to do just that. It is so important to have the courage of our Holy Spirit convictions to say “No” to people who are trying to force us into their definition of service. Don’t let anyone dictate or measure your spirituality by how and where you serve.
“Living in Brokenness.”
The context of this phrase is that we are always in a state of brokenness and the part about new life and victory in Christ gets left out.
I once attended a service where a poster announcing “No Perfect People Allowed” adorned the front of the sanctuary. I do think Jesus, who is perfect, was allowed, but with all this imperfection being celebrated, He was pretty difficult to see.
Yes, we are broken. But we are not to wallow or revel in brokenness. We are to repent of our sin and forgive those who have hurt us. It’s not easy but at some point, it has to be done.
We will never be free of sin entirely, but a constant appeal to luxuriate in our brokenness keeps us in a state of either victimhood or failure to overcome. We must be patient with everyone. But a one-sided message of brokenness is not the message of Jesus Christ, who speaks of new life and relief as well.
The reason I single these platitudes out is because they are phrases I once fell for and was manipulated by because I was new in the faith. To be honest, I didn't know any better.
I’m sure that for the most part those who say them do it without even thinking, and in albeit misguided sincerity. But anything outside of Scripture that gets repeated to the point of becoming a buzzword, mantra or cliché ought to be questioned and then retired from daily use.
Again, Scripture is our best way to test everything we hear, and we are wise to hold everything we hear accountable to it.
copyright Barb Harwood
“Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.” 1 Timothy 4:16
“Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching...Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.” Ephesians 4:14a, 15-16
Tuesday, April 14, 2015
One of the insights I've gained in not only my life as an introvert, but especially my life as a Christian introvert, is that the majority of Christians often want introverts to "get out of their comfort zones" and become extroverts.
However, my question is this: if introverts are expected to become extroverts (all in the name of sacrifice and getting out of one's comfort zone for the Lord), then, applying the same principle to extroverts, are they also to "get out of their comfort zone" and become introverts? Are they to be forced to live in solitude as the measure of their spirituality, or to serve only in the background where nobody will notice them?
Why is it that the measure of one's spiritual zest and "love for God" is almost always measured in extroverted terms? When is the last time an extrovert was told to stop raising their hands in worship, stop being so relational and stop enjoying group functions?! The very same people who would never tell an extrovert to stop doing these things have no problem at all, in fact often feel it is their duty, to tell introverts to stop being introverts.
The day I said "no" to "getting out of my comfort zone" was the day I heard God say, "Finally, you are freeing yourself to be who I made you to be, and live within the temperament I gave you."
The following quote sums it up nicely:
“One of the greatest mistakes a believer can make is to renounce or repress his God-given uniqueness in a vain attempt to appear more spiritual. That error is deadly on two counts. First, after ten or fifteen years of identity repression you can totally lose your understanding of who you really are. Second, there are some people outside the family of God who will never see Him for who He really is until they watch Him living and working authentically in one of His unique sons or daughters—one just like you!
Do you want to be a contagious Christian? Then stop apologizing for your God-given design. Quit trying to deny your individuality. Give up on trying to stuff yourself into someone else’s mold of what a good Christian should be. That’s not the game plan God has in mind for you...
In fact, in the kaleidoscope of God’s family, there’s room for all gifts and temperaments. God may have given you extraordinary depths of mercy, lots of patience, heights of wisdom, or the ability to enjoy adventure or to thrive on solitude. And, somewhere in your community, there’s probably a seeker who’s one step away from coming to faith but who needs to come into contact with someone just like you—with your personality, your temperament, your passion, and your interests....” Bill Hybels and Mark Mittelberg in Becoming a Contagious Christian
"I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well." Psalm 139:14
Copyright Barb Harwood
Copyright Barb Harwood
Thursday, April 9, 2015
Here’s what I’m learning about grace:
Grace keeps its mouth shut when something is none of our business.
Grace doesn’t tell other people’s news.
Grace defends (by saying something positive) the one being disparaged behind their back, bringing a quick end to the gossip.
Grace forgives--in the heart--being left out or not receiving cards or gifts.
Grace means that, whenever a group of folks get together, there will be much conversation, and sometimes we will forget that certain topics may touch a sensitive nerve in some people. So grace tries to remember and stay away from the potential to unintentionally hurt someone, while realizing that, other than becoming a monk, sometimes we will unintentionally make a comment that is hurtful. Grace goes to the person as soon as possible and clears it up.
Grace talks to the newcomer, stands down the gossip, encourages the downtrodden, rejoices with the successful.
Grace asks questions, is quick to listen and slow to speak.
Grace overlooks the “teacher-expert” who must steal the show with their “knowledge” even though they are not, in fact, the most knowledgeable person in the room.
Grace doesn’t engage those who always insist on being right.
Grace long-suffers with the long-suffering.
Grace accepts that not everyone operates out of grace, because not everyone knows the source of grace, the Lord Jesus Christ.
Grace accepts the grace of the Holy Spirit living in us, who do know Christ, and depends on Christ to keep us in grace, even under the most trying of circumstances.
This grace we possess doesn’t mean we don’t experience anger, or discernment between right and wrong. It doesn’t mean we are doormats, or never speak up. It means we do so in grace.
So be angry, but don’t sin (Ephesians 4:26).
Have discernment, but be “shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16).
Be confident in Christ, not a doormat to human sin emanating from others (2 Corinthians 3:4-6; Ephesians 4:14-15, Hebrews 4:16).
Speak up, but speak words of truth in love (Ephesians 4:15).
The Bible says we are to be salt and light (Matthew 5:13-16).
Salt flavors and also burns. Light shows the way to Christ. Sometimes grace will sting others (hence the notion of pouring hot coals on someone’s head, Proverbs 25:22). Our motivation is not to sting. However, in our right motivation and clear conscience before God, His grace working through us may indeed sting others. And that’s okay. Grace that is salty brings conviction. And conviction brings regeneration to new life (or just tees people off. It’s not our call, it’s God’s).
The same goes for flavor. The grace of God operating within us may flavor a person or situation parched and starving for grace.
Grace is hard, as I’ve written in a previous post. But grace is essential (and I’ve learned that not showing grace creates all sorts of problems. Showing grace, then, is actually easier in the long run!)
Grace doesn’t come from us. It comes from Christ who promises that His grace is sufficient for us (2 Corinthians 12:9). That means His grace is sufficient in our anger, irritation, desire-to-be-understood, animosity, hurt, resentment and anxiety. It is sufficient to overwhelm. To overwhelm means to “bury or drown...defeat completely...inundate” (online dictionary).
His grace can overwhelm every enemy, know-it-all, golden child, thorn in our side, social gathering, insecurity and every boast of man. It can overwhelm any person and situation. His grace can do this by first overwhelming us and our fleshly reactions, responses and broodings.
In short, the grace of Jesus Christ begins where we, ourselves, end.
“Out of his fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” John 1:16-17
“For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace.” Romans 6:14
“May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” 2 Corinthians 13:14
“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” Colossians 4:6
“You then, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.” 2 Timothy 2:1
“See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.” Hebrews 12:15
“But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: ‘God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.’” James 4:6
Wednesday, April 8, 2015
"Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers." 1 Timothy 4:16
"For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear." 2 Timothy 4:3
Tuesday, April 7, 2015
Monday, April 6, 2015
So where do we go from Easter?
We repent, and be forgiven.
"And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins." Mark 1:4
"He went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins." Luke 3:3
"and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem." Luke 24:47
"Peter replied, 'Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.'" Acts 2:38
"This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins." Matthew 26:28
Sunday, April 5, 2015
Saturday, April 4, 2015
“The chief priests and the whole Sanhedrin were looking for false evidence against Jesus so that they could put him to death.” Matthew 26:59
“So when the crowd had gathered, Pilate asked them, ‘Which one do you want me to release to you: Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?’ For he knew it was out of envy that they had handed Jesus over to him.” Matthew 27:17-18
“If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember the words I spoke to you: ‘No servant is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the One who sent me. If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not be guilty of sin. Now, however, they have no excuse for their sin. He who hates me hates my Father as well. If I had not done among them what no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin. But now they have seen these miracles, and yet they have hated both me and my Father. But this is to fulfill what is written in their Law: ‘They hated me without reason.’” John 15:18-25